Jul 282010

So, there’re a pig and a chicken walking down the road. – stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I’ve recently started working as a project manager in a web development company in North Sydney. I have a long background in web development, stretching back to 1996. (Well, I first used a computer in about 1979, a TRS-80 4K with tape player.) I remember using NCSA Mosaic, Netscape Navigator 0.9 and writing perl CGI scripts. And quite a lot since then.

But those days for me are long gone. I have to let go of ever hoping of being as capable as web programmers now – writing something with some AJAX bling, nice floating layers, HTML5 or what have you. I just can’t do it any more. Well, not without slaving over a hot keyboard and serious screen time.

But what I can do now is manage those who do the development. I bring a background of technical expertise and education (I had a Japanese sabbatical after the .com crash in 2001.) So, now I can talk the talk. And management and project management, although hard, is not impossible.

But there are two things that I find different. The development process is a lot more advanced. Now we can get the .psd file from the designer, send it to a html chopping house and then hand that disambiguated HTML to the programmer – wherever they may be. There’s no more messing around with tables to get the layout right: finally CSS has come of age. It used to be that we’d look at what the designer wanted to do and try and hack nested tables until the cows (or pigs) came home. Now, slap a few <div> tags in there and you’re set. (Except for ie6 …)

But the other thing that has changed is the methodology for project management. Project managers used to grind away with documented functional specifications and Microsoft Project to build the perfect plan – with milestones, and deliverables and what-have-you. And then the plan would fail. Milestones would pass making that whooshing noise I think we’re all so familiar with.

So when I started this job, I had to break away from my formal Project Management training and look for something new. And so, while I was away from programming all those years something called Agile Software Development popped into the picture. And it looked good. The philosophy of it seemed to resonate with me. But a philosophy without an application is meaningless. And so I found Scrum.

We’ve been trying to use Scrum in the office. However, for a small web development shop it just doesn’t really work. Scrum works well when you have one project, with a decent sized team who can work on continuously without (major) disruption in their sprints, something that might last a few months. But, in the hyperactive web world, we just can’t do that – our projects run in parallel and can go from under a day to several months.

So, I’ll try and think about a different way of doing things. It will still involve an Agile way of thinking. But I don’t know which methodology it will be, if any of the major ones.